THREE YEARS OF PROGRESS (1888) - DR. ARTHUR MITCHELL'S VISIT TO SYRIA
On the 24th of March, 1890, we were visited by one of the purest, noblest men of the modern church, Rev. Arthur Mitchell, secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. He came with his wife, a sister of Dr. Post of Beirut, after a round-the-world visit to the missions in Japan, China, Siam, and India. Having had a sunstroke in the Indian seas, be reached Cairo quite prostrated, and on reaching Beirut, Dr. Post insisted on his staying in bed and seeing no one. When restored, he took a three weeks' horseback journey, and then was able to meet the missionaries assembled in Beirut and to discuss important questions. His irenic disposition, keen insight into affairs, and persuasive eloquence, succeeded in completely obliterating certain chronic misunderstandings between some of the foreign residents; and in convincing the native church that it was their duty and privilege to call at once a native pastor, and in two months Rev. Yusef Bedr was unanimously called to the pastorate, and from that day to this the church has been served by native pastors.
The visits of Secretaries Dr. Mitchell in 1890 and Dr. Brown in 19o2 were a great blessing to the missionaries personally and to the work as a whole. Dr. Mitchell died in the summer of 1893, lamented by the Church at home and abroad. I had known him for fifty years, and none could know him without loving him.
It was my privilege to stand in his pulpit in Morristown, Chicago, and Cleveland. He was always a missionary in spirit. The monthly missionary meetings in his lecture-room, illustrated by beautiful maps drawn and coloured by his children, were the most attractive meetings of the month. I remember well the remark of Dr. Ellinwood in 1878 when I was about setting out on my Western campaign to the churches and synods, "You will find two Arthurs in the West, both of them in thorough sympathy with foreign missions, Arthur Mitchell of Chicago, and Arthur Pierson of Detroit," and so I found it. Arthur Mitchell died in the missionary harness and Arthur Pierson is still doing noble service for world-wide missions.
In July, 1890, I found in the Arabic journal Beirut the following account of a truly Oriental romance:
About twenty-three years ago, a Jew named Oslan came from Bagdad to Damascus, leaving his wife and children in Bagdad. Soon after, his wife gave birth to a son and named him Ezekiel. The husband decided to remain in Damascus, and after five years sent for his wife to bring the children to him.
So in due time she set out with the caravan of the Arab tribe of Akeil, taking the road through the Djoul wilderness. On their way they fell in with the tribe of Beni Sukhr, and encamped near them, pitching their tents for the night. About nightfall a terrific cyclone burst upon the camp. Tents were torn from their fastenings, shrubs and trees uprooted, the sand filled the air, and the wind scattered the baggage and belongings of the travellers, and among the missing property was little Ezekiel, the son of Semha. She and the Arabs searched for three days and found no trace of him and then she resumed her journey to Damascus, sad and disconsolate, with the Akeil tribe who struck their tents and accompanied her.
On reaching Damascus, she told her husband of the sad calamity which had befallen Ezekiel, and together they mourned him as dead.
Now it happened that a few days after the sand-storm, a Bedawy woman named Hamdeh, of the tribe of Beni Sukhr, when walking outside the camp, heard a child's cry, and found little Ezekiel nearly buried in the sand. She took him home to the tent of her husband, the Emir Mohammed Kasim, cared for him, named him Nejeeb Faris, and brought him up as her son, knowing nothing of his history or parentage. When Nejeeb reached the a age of sixteen, a Mohammedan Hajjam (a cupper and circumciser) visited the camp. The Bedawy boys were assembled for circumcision and he was among them. When it came his turn, the Hajjam exclaimed, "He is already circumcised after the manner of the Jews." Hamdeh then remembered that at the time when Nejeeb was found, a caravan passed them in which were Jewish women and children. She then told her husband Mohammed and Nejeeb of this fact. The news flew throughout the tribe and the Bedawin began to laugh at him and call him Bedawy Jew and ridicule him. He bore their insults, however, with patience until he had reached the age of twenty-three. In May, 1890, he left the tribe of Beni Sukhr at Khaibar near El Medina in Arabia and came northward to Mezeirib, east of the Sea of Galilee, on a swift dromedary with a single companion, making the thirty-two days' journey in sixteen days.
At Mezeirib he was not long in finding out the highway to Damascus, and: he entered that city clad in his Bedawy attire, carrying his mizmar, shepherd's pipe, with which he had been wont to awaken weird minor melodies in the Arabian desert. He went at once to the Jewish quarter and made himself known. The rabbi made a ceremonial examination and found that hewas circumcised according to the Jewish rite. The Jewish community of Damascus was in great excitement, and diligent inquiry was made. At length a Jewess recalled that eighteen years before, Semha, the wife of Oslan, came with her children from Bagdad and lost a son in the camp of the Beni Sukhr. Then began a search for Oslan and his wife and they were traced to Beirut.
Letters were then written to the chief hakkam or rabbi of Beirut, asking him, in case he found them, to obtain from them some sign by which they could identify the son and then send them on to Damascus.
They went at once without delay to Damascus, and found their son a wild Bedawy, with all the characteristics of an Arab of the desert. The mother was then asked if she knew of any mark on his body by which she could identify Nejeeb Faris, the Arab, as her son Ezekiel. She said that when an infant she cauterized his right forearm, and that he was once burned on his left thigh. On examination, both of these marks were found to be exactly as she said. A"kaief " (physiognomist) was then summoned, who declared his features to resemble those of Semha, the mother, and his eyes to be like those of his father, Oslan.
The youth was then delivered to his parents who embraced and kissed him, greeting him with warm welcome. Poor Ezekiel was stupefied with astonishment. He could not understand their expressions, nor could they understand his Bedawy dialect, but he was at length satisfied that he was their long-lost boy.
After a stay of three days in Damascus, they brought him over to Beirut. His relatives and fellow Israelites received him with great joy and affection. His long Bedawy locks were cut off, his Arab Abaieh robe was removed, and new Israelitish garments were put on him. He looked at himself with amazement and walked about the house as one in a dream. When they called him by his name, "Hazkiyel" (Ezekiel), he would not answer, but replied,"What do you mean by 'Hazkiyel'? I am Nejeeb Faris, the horseman of Abjar."
On Monday evening, June 3oth, a great feast was made by his parents. Men singers and women singers, with players on instruments, were hired, and guests were invited, both men and women, and there was eating and drinking, and making merry. And when the music began and the instruments sounded, Ezekiel's joy knew no bounds, and seizing his mizmar, he leaped into the middle of the room, dancing and shouting and playing his shepherd's pipe in Bedawy style. In a moment all the instruments were silent, the men and women singers paused, Ezekiel was left the only performer, and he shouted, "Rise up, brethren let us dance together."
The above I have translated literally from the Arabic paper Beirut, of July 2d.
July 7th - Today Ezekiel called on me with his mother at the American Press. He repeated substantially the statements narrated above. He says that his Bedawy father, the Emir Mohammed, is at the head of the Beni Sukhr, who occupy the Arabian wilderness from Mecca and El Medina to the north and northcast, carrying their raids as far as the vicinity of Bagdad, and it was on one of these raids that they discovered him almost dead in the sand.
"The Emir Mohammed," said Ezekiel, "has six sons, but none of them are noted for horsemanship and 'Feroosiyeh' with the spear, but I have always been a faris, and had command of a hundred spearmen." He said that he had often been challenged to the "jereed" contest by the best spearmen in Arabia (the jereed is a spear shaft with blunt ends used only for exercise and drill) and was never yet hit by the jereed. I asked him how he escaped. He said, "When the jereed strikes where I was thought to be, I am found under the horse's belly, riding at full speed."
I asked his mother if he knew anything about religion and she said nothing. I then asked him where good men go when they die. "To Jenneh" (Paradise). "And where do the wicked go?" "To Jehennam "(Hell)" "Do all the Bedawin Arabs believe this?" "Yes." "Do they live up to it?" "Live up to it? A man's life with them is of no more account than the life of a beast." "Do the Bedawin sheikhs and emirs pray?" He replied by extending both hands towards me, palms down, and the fingers spreading apart and saying, , Sir, are all my fingers of the same length? " i. e., are all men alike? I then asked, "Do you know the Mohammedan prayers?" "No, I have never learned them." "Have you ever met any Christians?" "Yes, at Khaibar there are Christians and I taught a Christian named Habib for five months horsemanship and spear practice, and he taught me to pray, 'Abana illeze fis semawat'" (Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, etc.), and Ezekiel repeated the whole prayer in Arabic with perfect correctness. I was astonished at hearing the Lord's prayer from this son of the desert, but remembered that there are scattered through that region small tribes of Oriental Christians of the Greek Church, who, with all their superstition and ignorance, know the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. It is certainly to the credit of this man Habib, living away down at Khaibar, near the tomb of Mohammed, that he should teach the Lord's prayer to the son of the emir of the Beni Sukhr. I asked Ezekiel why he came thus secretly and alone. He said that after he learned that he was of Jewish birth he wondered whether his real parents and others of his kindred were living, and about the first of May, when in Khaibar, he decided to come on alone to Damascus, and, if he found no trace of any living relative, he would return to his tribe. So he hired a guide and they two set out on dromedaries and travelled the six hundred miles between Khaibar and Damascus in sixteen days, the ordinary time for caravans being thirty-two days. He said that had he known that his father and mother were living he would not have come empty handed as he did.
His mother said she could not tell what her son would do, that it was hard for him to remain shut up in a house, and he wants to be out in the open air all the time. He knows no trade or business such as is needed to earn his living and is perplexed by his new environment. I asked him if he would like to enter a school and learn to read and write. He seemed to like the suggestion and said he liked the Christians and would rather be a Christian than a Jew. When I told him, of Jedaan, the Aneyzy Arab, in our school at Suk, he seemed much interested and it may be that he will consent to learn at least enough to enable him to read the Bible and write. I was struck with the difference between him and his mother. She had the placid, round, open face so common among Syrian Jewesses, with large staring eyes. His brow was low, his eyes deeply sunken and small but keen and penetrating as an eagle's. He seemed to be looking at something two miles off. His figure was lithe and thin, and he showed me the callous, almost bony, marks across the palm, thumb, and fingers of his right hand, from long rubbing of the spear shaft. Three days ago he was challenged by half a dozen horsemen of Beirut to a jereed race at the pines, and he says he left them far behind.
This is a veritable romance of real life. If Ezekiel is not upset by so much lionizing, he may yet follow Jedaan's footsteps and become an apostle to the desert tribes of the great wilderness of Arabia.
We sent him to Mr. Hardin's school at Suk but he could not endure the confinement and went away. [In January, 1905, his father stated that be was settled and at work in one of the Jewish industrial colonies near Safed.]
During this year, I baptized two intelligent Moslems in Beirut, both of whom had to leave the country. I regret to say that one of them was afterwards tempted by high office and large salary to deny his Lord and Master. He continues outwardly friendly, but must have some fierce struggles with an outraged conscience.
MUSICAL TALENT AMONG THE SYRIANS
Asiatic music differs so essentially from the European that foreigners on, hearing Syrian airs for the first time, are impressed and oppressed with the sad minor melancholy tone of the Arabic music. In Arab music the intervals between the full notes are thirds, so that C sharp and D flat are distinct sounds. Asiatics have no harmony. All their music is simply "one part" melody. Even in Europe, harmony as a science was not known in the early Christian centuries. The introduction of melodeons, pianos, harmoniums, and organs by Americans and Europeans in the last fifty years, and the regular instruction in harmony in the schools, have developed in the second generation of educated Syrians several very remarkable cases of musical genius of the European style.
Two of our Protestant young men have distinguished themselves even in the capitals of London and Paris. The first was a blind youth Ibrahim, who in Mr. Mott's blind school showed musical talent, playing several instruments and singing equally well bass, tenor, and soprano.
In the summer of 1890, after preliminary correspondence with Dr. Campbell, principal of the Royal Normal Musical College for the blind in Upper Norwood, London, young Ibrahim set out for London. At Port Said, having been abandoned by his Syrian fellow travellers, he fell in with a godly English family en route for London, who took charge of him until he entered the college. There, by industry, fidelity, and faithful study, he rose high in his classes, received his diploma, and is now supporting himself comfortably by tuning pianos.
The other youth, Wadia, is the son of parents, both of them pupils and teachers, and both fond of sacred music. I have spoken of him elsewhere.
These two young men, with native genius for music and brought up in godly families, show what may be anticipated when Christian education becomes general in the East.
Not only in music, but also in painting, considerable genius has developed in the second generation of Protestant youth, some of whom have done excellent work in portrait painting, among them Mr. Selim Shibley Haddad of Cairo, Raieef Shidoody of Beirut, Khalil M. Saleeby of Beirut, and Manuel Sabunjy of Cairo.
Mr, Haddad painted the beautiful portrait of Miss Everett which was given to the Beirut Girls' School by the alumna in Egypt.
In September 1890, I sent to Sir William Muir the manuscript of the "Bakurah," a book which has no superior as an exhibition of the Christian argument as addressed to Moslems. Sir William in his preface to the English abstract of the book pulished by the Religious Tract Society of London in 1893, says, "It is a work in many respects the most remarkable of its kind which has appeared. in the present day. It may take the highest rank in apologetic literature, being beyond question one of the most powerful treatises on the claims of Christianity that has ever been addressed to the Mohammedan world."
It is an historical romance located in Damascus, and is full of thrilling incidents and powerful reasoning. The book was published in Arabic first in Leipsic, the proofs being sent to Dr. Van Dyck for correction, and I also aiding in comparing it with the original manuscript. It was then sent to Egypt and placed on sale and some copies reached Syria. The edition being soon exhausted, it was reprinted by the missionaries in Egypt in a cheap form and it has been translated into Persian and into some of the languages of India. A young Moslem effendi recently informed me that he was led to accept Christ as his Saviour by reading a copy in the Azhar University mosque in Cairo.
The author's name does not appear, but I am thankful to say that he is one of the most refined and scholarly Christian preachers in the East, is well versed in Mohammedan literature, and has large acquaintance with their learned men. His literary taste and ability are only surpassed by the personal loveliness of a character, amiable, gentle, and fully consecrated to the service ice of Jesus Christ. Another book by the same author,
"Minar ul Hoc," "The Beacon of Truth," has also been edited and printed in Arabic and English through the efficient aid of Sir William Muir of blessed memory.
It is a somewhat striking coincidence that on the 13th of February, 1865, a Damascus Mohammedan lay imprisoned in Beirut for becoming a Christian, and the very next day, February 14th, the author of the "Bakurah " took refuge in my house at midnight from the persecution of his near relatives, members of one of the Oriental churches. It was a dark stormy night and they turned him out into the storm to find shelter where he could.
The facts concerning the persecution of the Moslem convert and the rumour that two more had been hung in the Great Mosque at Damascus for becoming Christians, coming to his knowledge just at this time when he was suffering the loss of all things to Christ's sake, made a deep impression on his mind.
His deep religious experience, afterwards so beautifully developed in his life and teaching, made it possible for him to write a book of spiritual power for the unspiritual Moslems. I am sure that no member of the Greek Orthodox Church or the Romish Church, believing in Mariolatry and ikon worship and priestly absolution could possibly write such a book as the "Bakurah," which is Scriptural and evangelical from beginning to end. Sir William Muir speaks of this point very tersely and earnestly in his introduction to the English edition.
I wrote to Sir William Muir, August 11, 1891:
"The Bishop Blyth crusade against the Church Missionary Society missionaries is indeed pitiable. Archdeacon Denison carries the matter to a logical conclusion. He only needs to insist that Bishop Blyth ask for rebaptism and reordination at the hands of the Greek patriarch and then his position will be consistent.
"Your own remarks in the Record are most pertinent. Those who talk about the Greek clergy labouring for the salvation of the Moslems do not know what they are talking about. I doubt whether there are a dozen Greek priests in Syria and Palestine who can read correctly a chapter in the Koran, or carry on an argument with a Moslem sheikh. Or if they could they would flout at the idea of preaching to the vile Moslems. Or if they felt it a duty, they are so afraid of the Moslems that they would not dare to speak to them of embracing Christianity. And if they did speak, the Moslems would reply by charging them with idolatry and creature worship."
On November 29, 1890, our hearts were gladdened by the arrival of my eldest son, Rev. William Jessup, and his bride, as a reinforcement to the mission. He was the child of many prayers, and entered upon his work fully consecrated, not only by his parents, but by his own free surrender of all to Christ.
Left motherless in infancy in 1864, he was brought up by loving grandparents in Branchport, N.Y., and became strong and vigorous. In 1878 I was in America and sent for him to come to my mother's home in Montrose. I had last seen him a lad of six years, and when I went to the railroad station to meet him, I was thinking, of the little child of ten years before. The train stopped. Only one passenger got out, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a satchel. I kept looking for my boy - but this man walked directly up to me with a smile and I saw that it was indeed my boy, the face the same, but so much higher from the ground! It was enough to bring both smiles and tears cars of joy. Then came the more intimate acquaintance, his meeting his brothers and sisters, the arrangements for Albany Academy with his brother Henry, their graduation at Princeton, and his course in the Princeton Theological Seminary and appointment to Syria.
Eighteen years have passed. Four lovely olive plants are around his table, and he has plenty of solid work in itinerating over a field ninety by forty miles, preaching and teaching the everlasting Gospel. It is a gratifying fact that not less than twenty-two of the children of American missionaries in Syria have entered on the missionary work.
As the year drew near its close, cholera appeared in Hamath, Hums, and Aleppo and Some 25,000 people died. Mr. Wakim Messuah, pastor in Hums, had provided himself with cholera medicines, and went fearlessly among the people day by day, so that during the prevalence of the pestilence not a Protestant died. The experience in Hamath and some of the villages was the same, as the teachers were forewarned and so forearmed. But after the epidemic subsided and all apprehension had ceased, the wife and daughter of the Hums pastor were suddenly taken one night with a virulent form of the disease and both died!
In Tripoli, through the goodness of God and the wise precaution of Dr. Harris, the girls' boarding-school stood like an angel-guarded fortress in the midst of that pestilence-stricken city. All water was boiled, all food cooked, and no outsider allowed to come in and although people were dying all around and the death wails filled the air, not a person in that building had the cholera.
The people asked, "Has God spread a tent over those Protestants?" The Moslems naturally suffered most, as their fatalistic doctrines lead them to neglect the simplest rules of sanitation and health.
This year was an important one in the Tripoli field. Talcott Hall, the chapel of the school and community, was begun, and Tripoli Presbytery was organized in Amar, a region so wild when I lived in Tripoli, that we could not visit it without armed horsemen to protect us. Then, as brother Samuel said about Safita, we dared not go there lest the people shoot us, but now we fear to go lest they ask us for a school, when we have neither the means nor the men to supply it.
The fourth Moslem convert of this year appeared, entered on a course of study, and has become an eminently useful man. We have just had a Moslem sheikh here from Egypt. He became enlightened there and fled to Syria. Some of the active brethren in a neighbouring city became interested in him and he came on to Beirut. He attended church regularly here for weeks and showed a good deal of religious interest and fervour. But at length the gangrene of Islam appeared, and he was found engaged in impure practices. He then told us that in Egypt his regular business for years was that of a marrier of divorced women. This is an approved business in orthodox Moslem circles. If a Moslem in anger divorces his wife twice, he cannot remarry her the third time until she has first been legally married for a day and a night to another man! This accommodating sheikh would marry a divorced woman, take her as his wife for one night, and then divorce her, so that she could return to her husband. In this way he made his living! No wonder he finds it as hard to be moral as the Corinthian converts did. Oh, the depths of corruption in Islam! Let us thank God for a pure and holy religion!
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